When Savannah Martin walks in on her abusive boyfriend and her best friend in bed together, she thinks life can’t possibly get any worse. And then she wakes up in a hospital in Italy, scared and alone. With nowhere left to go, Savannah runs to the family who took her in when her mother abandoned her as a teenager.
But things aren’t as simple as they were then.
For starters, two years of constant emotional abuse has broken Savannah in ways she’s not sure can be repaired. And patriarch Matthew Talbot has been murdered, leaving his eldest daughter, Lexi, in charge of a global non-profit and her younger sisters.
Jared Corbit, Lexi’s gorgeous boyfriend, is the only thing standing between her and whoever murdered her father. That doesn’t stop Savannah from falling in love with him. She knows it’s wrong, but she just can’t stay away from him when he makes he feel like no one else ever has before.
Finding out his relationship with Lexi is a ruse should make things easier, but when the truth is finally revealed, Savannah’s fragile world threatens to fall apart. There’s a murderer on the loose, and he’s gunning for the only family she has. To save their lives, she and Jared will be forced to make a decision that just might destroy her completely.
How is she supposed to let the man she loves be with another woman?
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PROLOGUE: IT DOESN’T HURT
Soft music drifts through the room—quiet, ambient. Expensive crystal clinks, one glass against another. Strains of conversation and laughter mingle in the perfumed air. It’s warm…too warm.
I swallow convulsively. Take a deep breath.
You can do this, I chant to myself. It’s become my mantra in the last few days, playing like a single verse of song stuck on repeat. Sometimes, I actually believe it.
I don’t right now.
My stomach feels sour, my throat too tight. The expensive heels I’ve donned are stuck to the floor as if made of lead. I feel like a fraud. An imposter.
I want to run.
I coach myself to smile instead. Smile…just smile. My cheeks ache, my lips pulled back from my teeth in a show of faux-happiness. Inside, I’m crying. Screaming. Dying.
Movement across the room catches my attention and freezes my blood.
A shock of dark blond hair. Broad shoulders encased in expensive black silk.
My stomach somersaults, drops, and then somersaults again.
Heads turn in his direction. I’m so focused on him, I barely notice the way conversation stalls all around me. His eyes—the coolest green jade—don’t even shift in my direction.
I want to scream at him like the Whos in Whoville screaming for their lives while their little world is forced closer to destruction: I’m here! I’m here!
I don’t make a sound.
My eyes travel down his form. I ache. Burn. Remember….
“I want you to remember something for me,” he whispers, staring into my eyes. He reaches out to stroke my cheekbones, his fingers gentle against my face. “Can you do that for me, love?”
Words fail so I nod.
“I want you to remember that it’s you. It’s only ever been you. Forever.” He kisses me softly. “Can you remember that for me, Savannah?”
“Jared–” His name is a pitiful sob as I throw myself into his arms. Tears pour down my face.
“Beautiful girl,” he chastises, gathering me up against his strong chest. “I love you. No matter what, I love you.”
I bite my lip against the cry of protest rising in my throat when he tilts his head to the side, forcing her into my line of sight.
With her perfect blonde hair and brilliant smile.
Her with her sultry laugh and womanly curves.
Her. And him. Together.
I bite my lip harder. A new ache begins in my chest, where my heart used to be.
Her eyes flit around the room, widen slightly when they fall on me, and then drift away again. Her head tilts toward his. His dips lower. Perfect red lips form words against the shell of his ear…words I can’t hear. They stab like a knife in my chest anyway.
He lifts his head to look.
My mantra shifts. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
The champagne flute shakes in my hands when searing green tangles for a brief moment with my own dull brown. His gaze strips me bare, sets me adrift, and unmakes me. For just a minute while he stares at me, everything is right. I’m whole, safe, and loved. And then his gaze moves away again and I’m none of those things. I’m afraid, confused, and lost. So lost.
His next move doesn’t help.
No, I want to cry out to him when he straightens and they start in my direction, each step matched perfection. I say nothing instead. I’m frozen solid…thought, preservation, and instinct completely wiped away.
They walk toward me, moving so slowly I feel like I’m watching an impending train wreck, unable to do a single thing to prevent it from happening. I want to lift my skirt into my hands and flee into the night. Just run until my lungs explode, my heart stops, and this sight—Her. Him. Together.—is burned from my memory. But I can’t.
I stand completely still instead.
I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.
The champagne in my flute sloshes around. A droplet runs down my hand, sticky, messy, like the last time we were together.
“I need to feel you, Savannah,” he breathes in my ear. His body presses against mine, hot, hard, and eager. “I need to be in you, love.”
His lips moves like butterfly wings across my skin—giving, taking, and worshipping. I lift my arms and wrap them around him, cradling him to me. His hand dips between my legs, slipping against slick skin aching for him. Always for him.
“Mmm,” he moans against my nipple when I arch into his touch.
That satisfied sound is my undoing.
Orgasm washes over me in a warm rush.
“More,” I beg, writhing through it, “please, Jared.”
“Yes, beautiful girl,” he croons and pulls away to undress.
I watch from beneath heavy lids, my attention riveted to the way the candlelight illuminates his skin, setting it afire in rippling, glistening shadow. A brilliant smile spreads across his face, softening his expression when he notices me staring.
He stalks toward me, his cock in his hand. “You’re gorgeous,” he whispers fiercely…the last words spoken before he’s sliding inside of me, stretching me, filling me.
“Oh baby,” he hisses when I wrap my legs around his waist.
He begins to move inside of me—in and out, faster, deeper. His lips seek mine. I kiss him hungrily, gasping and mewling into his mouth as he takes me higher, higher…always higher.
“I love you,” he cries out, his head thrown back as he slams himself inside of me. “I love you.”
Her smile brightens the closer they come to me. Perfect rows of white teeth flash. Her eyes—baby blue and full of some emotion I’d rather not name—meet mine. I barely stop myself from bowing my head as the way she looks at me combines with my memories of him, weighing me down.
She has everything that’s mine. She has him, and I can’t even hate her for it.
Nothing has ever hurt so deeply.
My heart splinters when they draw to a stop in front of me. I can’t bring myself to look up at him. Desperation to touch him, to kiss and love him, comes in crushing waves. I’m too far gone to trust myself not to give in.
“Lexi, Jared,” I whisper, choking on their names. “Congratulations.”
“Savannah,” Lexi greets me, her voice as perfect as the rest of her. “How are you?” She sounds genuinely concerned.
A thousand answers flit through my mind—dying, burning, terrified—but I can’t say any of them. My false smile feels like it’s going to crack my cheeks at any moment. Crack me. Wide open.
“Fine.” My mouth moves. My voice sounds. But I don’t know where the word comes from. I certainly haven’t thought it.
“Savannah.” Jared’s voice is warm honey—instant sensory overload.
His gaze is on me, searing me, but I can’t make my head move in his direction. I can’t.
“Look at me,” he whispers so softly I know the words haven’t carried beyond our little grouping.
My eyes find his, and, oh God– I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.
“Jared,” I choke, my hands trembling. The champagne flute clinks against the ring on my finger. His eyes…oh God, his eyes. So much pain, sorrow, and regret mingle there. Everything in my chest tightens, fracturing along already ravaged lines. Tears well, threatening to break free and spill over at any moment.
I have to get out of here. I have to–
“Breathe,” Lexi reminds me, her perfect lips barely moving.
I suck in air, wanting to hate her all over again. My breath won’t fit in my chest, in my lungs, it’s so tight, so close. It hurts. Everything about this hurts and I can do nothing but stand here and pretend it doesn’t. I want to beg them to make it stop, but I can’t get those words out either. I can’t say or do anything. I’m just here. Frozen. Dying.
“Do you believe in heaven?” I ask, kicking my feet to send ripples waving through the cool water.
“You ask the strangest questions,” he murmurs even as he smiles over at me. The sun catches in his hair and my fingers ache to weave their way through the mess.
I do exactly that.
He hums his pleasure before lifting me up into his arms and settling me in front of him. His head finds its way into the crook of my shoulder. He sighs softly, content.
“This is heaven,” he finally says. “Right here with you…not even God himself could compete with that.”
“I love you,” I breathe, turning my face up toward his.
“And I love you.” His lips meet mine, softly, reverently.
He’s right. This is heaven.
He reaches for the glass in my hand. His fingers brush mine, squeeze gently, and then pry the crystal from my trembling grasp. That soft touch is enough to undo me completely.
I’m no longer frozen.
I’m drowning. In want, need, and forbidden desire. It’s too much and not enough. Every part of me begs to look up at him, to see him and make him see me. I force them closed instead, fighting for control.
My body begins to shake from my useless efforts.
“Jared would love it if you saved a dance for him tonight,” Lexi says then.
My eyes spring open instantly and meet his.
Blazing green jade.
“I love you,” he mouths when Lexi glances away, “forever.”
The sob that’s been building in my throat all night chokes me.
I just want to die.
Oh God…I said that out loud.
“I’m sorry,” I whimper when his eyes widen in alarm and hers dart back to me. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Savan–” he starts to say and the look on his face…dear Lord, that look. It’s love, pain, regret, and need.
It’s him. It’s me.
No, it’s them. Her and him, together.
I turn and stumble away, tears pouring down my face.
“Let her go,” I hear her hiss behind me.
Jared’s voice breaks on my name, chasing me from the room.
Let me go….
“You have to choose, Jared.” Her blue eyes flash with hurt and anger. She points a finger at him, practically poking him in the chest. “You can’t have both.”
“Lex, please –” he tries to break in when a sob escapes my throat.
She’s right. I know she is. He can’t have both anymore. But hearing it from her hurts like hell. I cover my mouth with my hand as he stares at me, torment in his gaze, as if he knows this too. Every part of me screams for him to put his arms around me, to lend me some of his strength and ease us both. I want to beg him to choose me…but I can’t and I know that.
I have no place here. I never did.
“Don’t ‘Lex, please’ me!” she snaps at him, actually poking him in the chest with one long, manicured finger this time. “You made a promise to me, Jared. To my sisters. Does that mean nothing to you?”
“Of course it means something to me, dammit!” he snaps right back at her, though his eyes never leave me. He’s begging me silently to understand.
I want to tell him I do, but I say nothing. I’m not sure what will come out of my mouth if I open it.
“Then this has to stop now! You have to let her go, Jared.”
Another sob rips from my chest when his shoulders slump, defeat and misery washing through cool green jade.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers and my heart breaks. “I’m so sorry.”
Memory chases me and I run until I can’t run anymore.
I love you.
My legs collapse just beyond the back terrace, dragging me down to the cool, wet grass.
It’s only ever been you.
I gasp for breath that won’t come, sobbing and trembling.
You have to let her go, Jared.
Freezing rain pelts me.
I curl into a ball, tears and mascara running down my face, but I’m too far gone to care.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
I love you. Forever.
My heart shatters in my chest a final time, and I know that this is what dying really feels like.